Even before we got here, the question on everyone’s mind was what to expect from the language placement exam. And the answer (from program coordinators, professors, and students from previous semesters) was always: don’t worry about it. I am not one who responds well to that sort of advice. Apparently, neither are most of my classmates, because most of us stayed up late last night going over grammar and vocabulary.
For future students: don’t worry about it. There are two components to the [ungraded] placement test, a written exam and a conversation with a professor. The written test is fairly basic grammar, but the format is confusing in that none of the instructions are in English. Some activities I remember involved “word groups”—you are given one or two words from a thematic category (articles of clothing, members in a family, weather) and are asked to think of as many related words as you can. There was also a listening section with multiple-choice based on what you were able to understand from audio of, say, a teacher and a student talking about what they did on summer vacation.
You then have a 5-10 minute conversation with one of the language professors, who will assess your speaking skills. If you tend to freeze up in conversation, it might be helpful to write down a few basic things about yourself, your studies, and your family, because their first questions are usually along those lines. If you’re at a more advanced level, they’ll go into more detail.
In the end, it’s best not to worry, because you are ultimately the one who decides what language class you end up in. The placement test simply provides a suggestion and weeds out the total beginners, and after your initial placement you have a week to switch around until you feel comfortable in a given level.